Choosing foods that are good for the health of your gut is incredibly important. These foods help ensure that your body is digesting and absorbing all the nutrients it should, as well as prevent various health conditions.
Unfortunately, not all foods are good for your gut health. Some, in fact, can be damaging.
Because of that, it’s important to avoid them if you want to keep your gut flora as healthy as possible.
So, what foods are the worst for your gut health?
Generally, whether a food is bad for your gut health depends on whether you suffer from any preexisting digestive system issues. But there are some foods that are unanimously considered bad for your gut.
These foods tend to consider a lot of sugar, fat, acid, and several other substances and nutrients that negatively impact the health of your gut. So, it’s important not to consume them or at least do so in moderation.
15 Worst Foods For Your Gut Health
This one might seem odd, but it’s actually true. Tomatoes have a very thick skin that’s rather hard to digest. The same goes for the seeds they contain, which are harsh for your digestive tract.
Tomatoes, and various tomato-based products, also contain quite a lot of acid, which leads to inflammation in your digestive tract. This can trigger bloating and abdominal pain in people with IBS, GERD, or acid reflux.
Also, tomatoes are one of the most common food allergens. So, make sure you don’t have an allergy before consuming too many tomatoes.
2. Animal Protein
Animal protein consists of red meat, poultry, fish, and similar. While these are healthy and rich in nutrients, they can be harmful to the gut microbiome if consumed in large quantities.
Research shows that too much animal protein raises your risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – a condition that worsens the health of your gut and triggers unpleasant symptoms.
Excess animal protein can also increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and kidney damage.
So, while it’s OK to include animal protein in your diet, aim to consume a lot of plant-based protein sources as well.
3. High FODMAP Foods
FODMAPs are indigestible, fermentable carbs that trigger various IBS symptoms. They’re also bad for the health of your gut, as they can cause inflammation.
4. Citrus Fruits
Citrus fruits like lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits contain a lot of citric acid. This kind of acid tends to trigger acid reflux symptoms like throat pain, nausea, and heartburn. It also increases the production of gastric acid, which can rise up your esophagus.
Just like with other foods on the list, though, eating citrus fruits in moderation isn’t bad for your gut health.
It’s only when you consume too many that problems occur. So, limit your consumption to about one citrus fruit every two days.
If you suffer from IBS or acid reflux, you may want to limit your intake even more.
5. Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are worse for you than sugar since they lead to inflammation and damage to the ‘good’ gut bacteria.
Research is conflicted if we should all completely avoid foods containing artificial sweeteners, but it might be better to at least limit your intake of them if you want to keep your gut healthy.
6. Spicy Foods
Spicy foods inflame your whole digestive tract, triggering the symptoms of acid reflux and GERD.
Because of that, adding too many spicy foods to a low-acid diet is often not advised for people with these two conditions.
On the other hand, the issue with spicy foods and gut health is that some studies claim that eating them can reduce inflammation, while others state that they trigger it.
So, in this case, it might be best to listen to how your body reacts before adding hot spices to every dish you eat.
7. Dairy Products
Dairy products, especially the fermented ones, contain a lot of probiotics, which are important for a healthy gut.
But if you consume too much milk, yogurt, cheese, and similar, you can actually trigger the opposite effect.
According to some studies, consuming too many dairy products can trigger inflammation and indigestion in some people, regardless of whether they’re allergic to lactose or not.
What’s more, consuming too much dairy can lead to nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhea.
This is because, aside from lactose, dairy contains a lot of substances and nutrients that your body can’t digest quickly enough.
So, make sure to control how much dairy you consume and how often you do so.
8. Acidic Foods
Acidic foods acidify your digestive tract, triggering the symptoms of acid reflux and GERD.
They also force your stomach to overproduce gastric acid, increasing the risk that it will rise up your esophagus and cause heartburn.
Some of the most common acidic foods include fresh and processed meats, eggs, salt, some types of cheese, and certain grains.
To combat the acidity of these foods, make sure to include alkaline-forming foods in your diet like fresh veggies, soy, herbs, most fruits (aside from citrus fruits), and certain soy products.
Cabbage does contain quite the number of nutrients and antioxidants crucial for good health.
But it also comes with some negative side effects for your digestive tract and gut health.
In small quantities, cabbage is an excellent addition to a healthy diet aimed at gut health.
But if you eat too much of it, you can develop flatulence, diarrhea, medication interactions, and hypothyroidism.
This cruciferous vegetable may also be harder to digest for your stomach as compared to other veggies.
So, if you suffer from slowed digestion or other digestive system issues, you may want to limit your consumption of cabbage.
10. Processed Food
Processed foods are one of the foods on the list that you may want to avoid altogether.
These foods can contain trans fat, lots of added sugars and salt, and many preservatives. These ingredients are harmful to your gut, harming gut microbiota.
What’s more, processed foods are also much higher in calories than homemade meals. According to studies, excessive weight gain can worsen many digestive system issues, negatively impacting the health of your gut.
Processed foods you should avoid include frozen pizzas, frozen meats, fast foods, canned vegetables, and snacks.
11. Fructose-Rich Foods
As mentioned above, fructose is a high-FODMAP sugar. It’s a natural sugar that comes from fruits, so in small amounts, it’s not bad for your health.
But if you overdo it, you can experience some gut problems.
In general, all types of sugar are hard for your stomach to digest. Because of that, it’s often recommended to limit your intake of sugar-rich foods if you suffer from GERD or IBS.
Fructose also increases the leaking of toxins from your intestines into your bloodstream. This causes inflammation as well as increases liver fat – both harmful issues for gut health.
Most fruits contain fructose. So, if you want to improve your gut health, try not to consume too many high-sugar fruits and stick to those lower in fructose, like bananas, blueberries, or strawberries.
12. High-Sodium Foods
Sodium is a mineral that, if consumed in large amounts, raises your blood pressure but also negatively impacts your gut health.
Aside from increasing the risk of strokes and heart attacks, too much dietary sodium leads to inflammation in your stomach.
This kind of inflammation is harmful to the healthy gut bacteria that reside in your digestive tract.
Sodium also leads to water retention, which makes you feel bloated and slows down digestion.
Soy has long been studied for its effects on gut health. Some experts believe that it’s not harmful, while others think it should be limited on a gut health-friendly diet.
The first problem with soy is that most soybeans are genetically modified (GMOs). Foods containing GMOs have hormones, which have negative effects on your overall health as well as the health of your gut.
Soy also contains antinutrients – compounds that prevent the absorption of several minerals.
The same antinutrients may also reduce your gut’s barrier function, causing gut issues and inflammation.
So, be careful with consuming too many soy-based products.
Generally, legumes are OK for your gut health in moderation. But they can cause a condition known as leaky gut when consumed in large quantities.
A leaky gut syndrome is a condition that happens when the substances and compounds from food damage the lining of the intestine wall. This can let toxins into your bloodstream, which is dangerous.
Legumes are also FODMAPs, so they can lead to bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation.
Not only those with gluten sensitivity should be careful about it. Gluten can increase intestine permeability and lead to various digestive system issues like IBS.
So, while it’s primarily a concern for people with preexisting digestive problems, everyone wanting to keep their gut healthy might want to consume less gluten.
Unfortunately, there are many foods that can be harmful to the health of your gut. Some contain substances that trigger digestive problems and worsen gut health, and some may be bad in large quantities.
It’s also important that all healthy, fresh foods are good for you, but sometimes you may need to consume them in moderation. For example, even too much fiber can be bad for your gut.
So, keep that in mind before removing a lot of nutrient-rich foods from your diet.
Alicia is the senior content editor and writer here at Food FAQ. She has extensive experience with acid reflux, heartburn, GERD, and various supplements. When not eating food for “research”, she’s watching “Friends” for the 100th time.